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This past summer, and even in the past weeks, I went to the Portuguese island Madeira. It was on my list for so long and I’m so excited to have gone with one of my best friends. There is so much to do on this fairly small island which makes it the perfect destination for travellers who are looking for adventure, culture and relaxation. Here is the beginners guide to Madeira.
I love writing these blog posts because it makes me relive the moments but it also, I hope, gives you more information about the things to do and what you should or should not do. This one is going to be full of my recommendation and stuff that I found during my 8-day trip. This beginners guide to Madeira is definitely worth reading!
I start off this beginners guide to Madeira with a little advice about the amount of days to stay in Madeira. I advise you to book about 10 days on this island if you are looking for the adventure, culture and relaxation I just mentioned. This gives you enough time to explore the island, meet the local community and enjoy the black sand beaches and possibly go on a boat to tour the island from a different perspective!
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Madeira is known as the flower island and it’s incredibly green. If you go to the Funchal area, you’re almost guaranteed to have a lot of sun. However, on every other side of the island it’s not the case. It can be very overcast with a cooler sea wind which can make it feel a bit chilly! Especially on the mountains I’d recommend you to bring a cardigan in case you get cold. The temperature can drop 10-15 degrees if you go into the mountains.
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Me and my friend did two jeep excursions: one of the east coast and one of the west coast. We almost saw the entire island with these two tours. They’re both an one day excursion which means you get to see 80% of the island in just two days. The most fun part of the jeep excursion it the off-road part. You get to parts of the island where hardly anyone comes and it’s the perfect spot to have a little hike with the group!
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Since 20 years, Madeira has a good infrastructure of safe roads along the island. However, these are the standard roads with tunnels under the mountains. You won’t see the real side of the island by driving on these roads. That’s why I’d recommend to take the old, more dangerous, roads in and through the mountains and along the coast. This means that you need to be a comfortable and good driver. There are seriously a lot of steep hills on this island. Let’s just say that it’s not for beginner drivers who aren’t very comfortable on the road yet! You do get to see everything because it’s all up to you. You can hike for as long as you want without having to go with the group after 15-20 minutes.
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Funchal has two cable cars that lead you to amazing botanic gardens! I only went up with the first one, but you can get on a second one on the top to go even higher. We were pretty late in the evening so we only walked around without going into the botanic gardens since they were closing up. Be aware that the last cable car goes down at 17:45. We missed that one, so we had to run to the wooden sleighs! This has been a tradition since many, many years and it’s so much fun. It costs you €15 per person and you go down on a wooden sleigh on the street and two guys push and turn the sleigh for you. It is expensive but if you’re looking for a traditional tourism thing to do: this is the one. This was our only option because we didn’t wanted to grab a taxi. Once you reach the end of the wooden sleigh, go down the stairs and turn right. There are a bunch of taxi drivers waiting for you, but walk past these guys to the bus stop on the left side of the street. This bus will take you for €2 per person back to the centre of Funchal!
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The bus system is incredibly handy in Madeira. Especially from the tourist area: Funchal to villages and to the capital Funchal. Bus 1, 2 and 4 take you to the centre of Funchal for just €1.95. This is the general price of each bus line! All the bus drivers speak English, they can always answer your questions! As expected, there’s no screen in the bus what tells you and which bus stop you are. You need to remember the surroundings and get out when you see something familiar! No stress because the bus stops aren’t far apart. If you miss you stop, just get out on the next stop and walk back.
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Let me warn you, the alcoholic drink Poncha is incredibly strong. It’s almost awful if you’re not used to these drinks like me and my friend. We were smart and shared a glass, but there’s about 60% rum in it which has 50% alcohol in it. Obviously you need to be above 18 to drink these type of drinks! There is also a rum factory in Porto Da Cruz which is a lot of fun. You get to try a bunch of rums and buy a small bottle to take home with you like we did.
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The “fake beaches” aren’t obviously fake fake, but the white/beige sand isn’t originally from Madeira. Madeira doesn’t have traditional beaches like we are used to. They have rock beaches or a few black sand beaches. These beaches are made with Sahara sand from Morocco! They literally transported the sand from Morocco to Madeira to make two of these fake beaches. The locals are incredibly happy with it.
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This place was my favorite place on the island. In the middle of the island is the sort-of rain forest of Madeira. It is amazingly green and silent. The only thing you’ll hear are the waterfalls and the birds chirping. One of the amazing things I witnessed was the horizontal rain. This is incredible and it’s the reason why it’s so green in the forest. There was a lot of fog which made the entire experience so magical!
And besides those things, just enjoy the island. Admire the flowers, have a swim in the ocean and try to spot the dolphins who swim near the island. Enjoy the amazing food in Funchal and have a cup of coffee (or poncha) at the coffee shops and the cafés! I hope this beginners guide to Madeira gave you the inspiration to visit the island.